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When Mayo were in a league of their own

Sport

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC Mayo captain Noel Connelly lifts the cup after the 2001 National League Division Final win over Galway. Pic: Sportsfile

David Brady reflects on Mayo’s win over Galway 20 years ago


Feature
Mike Finnerty

“I WOULD count winning that medal as a real achievement from my Mayo career. And I know how much it meant to the supporters. We were the first team for 30 years to win a National League. Would we have won it if we’d hadn’t been playing Galway?
“I don’t know.
“But it definitely created a lot more appetite for us. I’m always of the opinion that, in a sporting context, any chance you get to keep the neighbours down, you should keep them down.”
Twenty years may have passed since David Brady celebrated ‘one of his top three achievements’ in Gaelic football, but his pride in Mayo and his feelings about Galway haven’t changed much in the meantime.
This Thursday [April 29] marks the 20th anniversary of Mayo’s nail-biting one point victory over their neighbours at Croke Park.
From 1996 until 1999 they had battled ferociously in Connacht in the days before backdoors and Qualifiers.
In those days it was knock-out football, and Galway’s All-Ireland win in 1998, allied to Mayo’s defeats in the finals of 1996 and 1997, had added more fuel to the rivalry fire.
So when they met in a national final in 2001, David Brady and his team-mates sensed their opportunity to put down a marker.
“Rivalry always simmers, but it never got time to come off the boil back then because, when you see your biggest rivals having success, it makes it even more intense,” the Ballina Stephenites star recalled last week. “We didn’t want them to beat us in a national final.”
One of Brady’s enduring memories from Mayo’s victory that day was its significance for then-manager, Pat Holmes, who had soldiered with the county for years as a player and was now leading them to a first National League crown for 31 years.
“Holmesy was one of us, he was as good a team-mate as you could get,” said Brady.
“And then he’d become ‘Pat’ the manager before the start of the 2000 season.
“I think it took us a while to get used to that, but in that league of 2001 we started to generate a bit of momentum. We never focussed on a league title until we were in the position.
“We drew two games [against Sligo and Cavan] early on, but then we found ourselves in a position to win a national title. We’d won Connacht titles but a national medal was something we were all missing.
“For Pat to win that title as a Mayo manager was a massive achievement as well. You have to remember, only two Mayo teams have won National League finals in the last 50 years.”
Marking the occasion
THE only catch for David Brady and company after getting the job done against Galway was the small matter of having to face Sligo in the Connacht championship two weeks later.
As a result, a decision was taken to have no ‘official’ homecoming for the newly-crowned league champions. But as Brady explained, a low-key ‘unofficial’ affair did take place.
“We probably did as much ‘unofficially’ as if we’d been allowed to do it officially, truth be told! It was a long journey home,” he laughed, on mature reflection.
“The old reliables were with me; Colm Mc[Manamon] was definitely in the middle of it anyway! We went back to Castlebar because you’re not going to win something and pass Mick Byrne’s! We had a man outside the door at all times, and he was told, ‘If Holmesy is around, give us a shout!’
“Nobody went mad, but I would have felt that you had to acknowledge the end of one campaign and the start of another. From a psychological point of view, that was very important.
“We’d been training hard and heavy since before Christmas. I remember we trained out in Tourmakeady that winter and it was a hard slog.
“We’d been totally focussed for three or four months, so the feeling was that 15 days to championship wasn’t going to make or break you.
“I felt we definitely needed to acknowledge and celebrate the success.”
Mayo beat Sligo by a point but lost the subsequent Connacht Final to Roscommon after a late goal from Stephen Lohan. They exited the championship a few weeks later when they were ambushed by Westmeath in the Qualifiers. And the rest is history.
David Brady lives in Dublin now, and is married with two young children.
All his medals (including his All-Ireland club and National League) bar one are ‘in a bag’ at home in Ballina. The one exception?
‘My Under-10 Town League medal from 1984’.
“Because it’s the one that started me, and the one I’m thankful for the most because that was the spark that lit the flame.”

 

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